I really tasted two unrelated teas together, one a tea bud cake version (the "Yin Ya white pu'er") and one a standard sheng, both from Moychay.
The reasoning for the pairing was to finish trying some tea versions from a set of samples (with cakes as samples, this buds version a mini-cake; not how samples for review usually works out). To repeat a common theme here, comparison of unrelated teas isn't helpful for review purposes. I suppose I noticed how feel aspects related, for example, but didn't make a lot of that in the notes. I'll present the summary of the two teas separately, with the typical sheng version second, as a sort of bonus review, since it seems to read more clearly split up.
Both of these teas are not currently listed for sale on the site (shown as "not available"). If someone is reading this only for research of purchase alternatives all of this might be completely irrelevant. I don't see discussing teas here as limited to marketing support so to me the descriptions are still meaningful. That saves me from even considering value since I don't know how these were priced.
The vendor mentioned that this tea is similar, if that's of interest.
It is nice having more of these teas than I typically receive for reviews (they were provided by Moychay), for more than one reason. Of course I can drink more tea then, and can share it with others, as I did in those tasting sessions I wrote about over the last few months. Also these types of teas are more or less designed to age, and a 10 or 20 gram sample is only going to go so far related to trying the teas for review and then again later on. I probably won't say a lot in following years about teas I've reviewed this year but eventually some of that will come up, and beyond that at least the experience will recur.
It's my impression that this vendor shared more of the teas related to taking my overall experience into account, more than to influence reviews to be positive. People can interpret that as they want though, or make nothing of it. Anyone opposed to blog reviewing as a potentially biased form of input might be less likely to read this anyway. I can't say for sure that my impressions aren't biased, it just doesn't seem to work out that way to me. I just describe the teas.
What the two teas are:
Gu Shu Yin Ya (MoyChay.ru), 2016, 100 g.
Qian Jia Zhai Sheng Cha (Moychay.ru, raw material 2016, compressed 2017), 357 g.
I'm curious if the Yin Ya is similar to Ya Bao tea buds, but it looks nothing like those. The connection is both being referred to as "white pu'er," and both obviously being made of buds, but beyond that the similarities stop. Let's start with a label description:
A photo of that "Yin Ya" loose:
And that previous Ya Bao version reviewed here:
It's just not the same thing. Per my understanding (which is never a last word) the difference isn't that Ya Bao is from a different tree plant type, although it is said to typically be from a specific version of Assamica. Instead the Ya Bao buds are picked much earlier, before the type of bud familiar in silver needle or tips white tea versions has a chance to form (which seems to be what this is, only perhaps processed differently than white teas).
The other tea is just sheng. That area / origin name relates to a place in Yunnan, described in a general reference here:
Qianjia Zhai Scenic Area, located in the northeast of Zhenyuan County of Pu’er City in Yunnan Province, is the provincial-level scenery area. It consists of 49 scenic spots with the total area of 44 square kilometers. Qianjia Zhai Scenic Area features beautiful water, majestic mountains, quiet forest and extraordinary scenery.
Wild tea trees: According to the experts, the top tea tree, which is 18.5 meters high and 2700 years old, is the oldest and biggest wild tree that ever been found so far. It’s situated on Ailao Mountain which rises more than 2600 meters above sea level...
In a questionable choice of references I'll also mention a vendor page describing growing conditions and the area from Verdant. That supplier started a trend for tea vendors taking heat for allegedly making obviously false claims about tea tree source ages (obviously false to many), with discussion of that on Reddit, Steepster, and in a personal blog account. The photos in that reference are still actual local images, it would just be as well to take the written content plant-age claims with a grain of salt.
If accuracy of vendor background information is seen a main concern then evaluating that debate would be relevant to judging Verdant as a potential source. The tea is the same if paired with carefully reviewed and accurate claims versus references that are almost certainly untrue, but it's still probably not a good sign. It would make evaluating the other information presented more difficult.
Even including "gushu" in this post title related to the buds version goes a bit far for making a claim. I've seen people use that term as a reference to different source-plant age claims, but it's as well to just take it for what it's worth, as an attempt to describe something about the source, versus having a specific meaning or making an implied quality level or character claim.
Review of the buds version
sheng on the left, these buds on the right
There was one distinctive flavor in that Ya Bao version that defined it, said to be typical of the type in other versions, which I had to look up in my review to remember it: pine. There isn't really any pine in this the first infusion, it's on the mild side and sweet side, and a bit subtle. If you taste a pine tree bud--which is kind of a strange thing to do, but I did, plenty of times--they sort of do taste like this, mild and sweet, with a distinctive flavor. I think it turns out those are even edible, which makes me wonder how many random things I tasted as a child weren't. I was probably a strange kid.
The sweetness picked up a lot. It is odd tasting two teas that are so dissimilar together (a point I'll not say much more about throughout this). The contrast isn't informative; they're just opposites. This one is smooth and round, sweet and relatively full in feel and flavor profile. As I remember the opposite of that is what I didn't like about the only Ya Bao I'd tried, it being so one-dimensional, with just a limited but pleasant flavor standing out, and feel and complexity seeming limited. It seemed more like a tisane than a tea for lacking flavor complexity and other range, the full feel and aftertaste that "real" teas express much better than any other dried leaves or other herbs.
Flavors are definitely in a fruit range; a little towards juicyfruit gum. Someone else might interpret that as similar to dried apricot, or something else altogether.
More of the same; not transitioning too much. It's novel, with positive aspects to appreciate. Moonlight whites can push that intensity and depth of fruit aspects just a little further, so I tend to like those better, but that's a familiar personal preference issue from silver tips style whites in general. I tend to like Bai Mu Dan versions more than silver needle / silver tips teas for the fine leaves included adding more flavor range, but lots of others express the opposite preference.
This tea would work well for a tea to drink when you feel like something different or an experiment to set aside for a decade. It might be hard to put a clear market value on this tea since versions like this don't come up that often. To carry that a little further this isn't exactly like any other version of any tea I've ever tried. When I said the feel was full it also includes a creaminess that's not all that common for lots of tea types, maybe closer to how some oolongs come across than to sheng versions or white teas.
I'd probably be evaluating this tea more positively if I was really attached to that particular type of fullness. It's interesting and positive, to me, but other people seem to make more of how nice an experience it makes for than I tend to.
It's odd this has worked out so well brewed fast, matching the sheng times. Doubling the time would bump intensity but it's nice as it is, sweet, complex, full in feel, and so on. I would've expected it to not be as intense given how brief those brewing times have been.
I brewed it for a number of additional infusions. The flavor became a good bit less sweet and creamy, extending more towards wood or a trace of bitterness, but it was still positive. It was definitely a unique tea version. I'd expect it to pick up additional complexity and depth after years of aging, but I'm not certain about that, since I haven't tried so many aged whites that typical transition patterns are clear to me.
Review of the sheng, 2016 Qian Jia Zhai
Initial flavor is pleasant; some bitterness, perhaps a hint of smoke, but with good depth of a range of different aspects, and a nice overall balance. I'd expect the bitterness to fall into a more pleasant balance after a couple of infusions I'd also guess that this tea is intense enough that it's well suited for waiting another decade to drink it. I'll say more about a flavors list, and other aspects, but the rest of the taste seems to settle into aged wood or towards spice from that.
Second infusion: bitterness is pronounced enough in this that it would be too much for people unaccustomed to young sheng range. For people on that general page it would probably still seem moderate, not strong, but the bitterness is a good bit more pronounced than Yiwu or Nan Nuo origin versions tend to be, probably just a touch heavier than Jing Mai teas I've tried tend to express. For some that would still be fine, since the overall balance works; it would depend on aspect preferences.
It's intense; a bit of smoke stands out just because it's novel, and from that there's a woodiness with some degree of spice. The spice is hard to place; in that aromatic range of spices used for incense, frankincense or myhrr or such.
Third infusion: it's not transitioning enough to add much, maybe softening slightly. I get a sense it may shift off this range more in a couple more infusions. Really this seems a good candidate for trying twice a year to check in and leaving sit otherwise. It's not that it's not good tea, or not drinkable, but it's true potential probably lies in the future, and this is probably a good starting point for picking up more complexity in a different range later.
Even after 5 years stored here (in Bangkok, in a very humid and warm environment) teas can change a lot. It has nice body and aftertaste beyond the flavor, but per how I experience teas it's hard to really move past that bitterness, the flavor level. Or I guess if this level of bitterness is seen as desirable it could be perfect now.
Fourth infusion: it is softening up a little more; using a really fast infusion helped with that (up towards 10 seconds, but this would drink ok at flash infusions at this proportion). The sweetness is nice; that effect of bitter and sweet together works. You get some nice sweetness after-effect after drinking it but not as much of the feeling trailing down the throat as I usually associate with hui gan ("returning sweetness," described here, per a translation that doesn't mean much beyond already knowing what it means). This effect occurs all throughout your mouth instead, with a pronounced effect along your tongue with some tightness on the sides of your mouth.
None of that means so much to me; people really far along the sheng path tend to associate and mouth-location variations in range of feel and aftertaste more than I do. Flavors include woodiness (aged, but with some tree-sap bite too), a bit of spice, and lots of mineral depth, the last across a broad range, from rocks to metal.
Fifth infusion: the character is the nicest it's been, softened, gaining complexity instead of loosing it. Aspects description would shift a little but it's not so different that it's worth running through it.
I drank a good number of infusions more of both teas, and while the buds trailed off in terms of initial sweetness and creamy feel this one just thinned a bit instead. I could imagine some people interpreting the character and aspects of infusions 6 through 10 as more positive for this sheng compared to the earlier infusions range. Intensity dropped off and the balance of aspects shifted as longer brew times drew out the same level of infusion strength, with this sheng more consistent than the other buds-based tea.
recent ice skating outing (they can do it)
Halloween and birthday theme; his 10th that day
it worked out that we had ice cream cake later and sang twice